Colombia: Assassination attempt
Chile: Organizations reject new US military facility in Concon, Valparaiso What’s behind Obama’s new military base in Chile?
The Colombia Support Network (CSN) views with great concern recent developments in Colombia, as well as military developments elsewhere in South America. We condemn the attempt on the life of former Colombian Minister of Interior and Justice Fernando Londoño and express our sympathy to him and condolences to those who lost family members killed by the bomb placed on the windshield of former Minister Londoño’s car in Bogotá. The authors of this bombing, which has terrorized the capital city once again, must be sought out and tried for this heinous crime. We have often disagreed with the public comments and positions taken by former Minister Londoño in his newspaper columns and radio programs, but he has every right to express those opinions and to live free of threats to his person and of attempts upon his life. We deplore any attempt to silence through violence the voice of anyone who comments on public affairs or who has held public office.
We are also very concerned about recent declarations by paramilitary organizations threatening leaders of organizations working for human rights. A recording made by a person identifying himself as belonging to the Aguilas Negras paramilitary organization threatened the lives of Piedad Cordoba, Gloria Cuartas and Iván Cepeda, three persons whose contributions to peace and justice in Colombia have been exceptional and of great importance. A second communication by the Aguilas Negras, in the form of a crude written message from the “Bloque Capital D.C.”, declared “all of the members of the Union Patriotica” to be a “military objective”, in addition to threatening to eliminate the leaders of organizations which participated in the recent Marcha Patriotica. The Union Patriotica, the Patriotic Union movement, was the victim of political genocide, in which some 5,000 of its members were murdered in the late 1980’s and 1990’s, including Senator Manuel Cepeda Vargas, the father of Representative Iván Cepeda. We call upon the Fiscalia (Attorney General’s office) to investigate these threats and to arrest and prosecute those responsible. We call upon President Santos to order the Army and Police to pursue the Aguilas Negras and dismantle their installations throughout the country, and to order their prosecution for their illegal activities and threats to leaders in the human rights community.
Additionally, we are deeply concerned about what recent visits by high-level U.S. and Israeli officials may portend for Colombia and for other South American countries. Apart from President Barack Obama’s attendance at the “Cartagena Summit”, where no conclusive action was taken given the U.S.’s intransigence on the issues of drug policy and Cuban membership in the O.A.S., CIA Chief David Petraeus, Joint Chiefs of Staff Head General Martin Dempsey, and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta have recently visited Colombia. Petraeus went to the Macarena in southeast Colombia, long an area where the FARC guerrillas have had a presence and where a large common grave site of unidentified murder victims lies next to a Colombian Army installation. General Dempsey also went to the Macarena, and he visited the Catatumbo region near the border of Colombia with Venezuela, where fierce fighting between FARC guerrillas and the Colombian Army has occurred in recent days. Secretary of Defense Panetta, formerly head of the CIA, visited the Colombian Army base at Tolemaida, where U.S. soldiers have been assigned. And Israeli Defense Minister and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak recently came to Colombia to see the military installations at Tolemaida, a continuation of Israeli military interest in Colombia. (President Santos, while Minister of Defense in the Uribe Administration, visited Israel and helped develop a close relationship between the Colombian and Israeli militaries.) And the United States has entered into an agreement with the Chilean government to use a military base in Chile.
These military initiatives are worrisome. They appear to indicate an effort by the United States, supported by Israel, to establish a military presence close to Brazil and Venezuela, on the one hand, and Argentina and Bolivia, on the other. It may be an effort to use client states in the region, such as Colombia and perhaps Chile, to give the United States a perch from which to seek to control policies in the region to suit its interests.
Chile: Organizations reject new US military facility in Concon, Valparaiso
On April 5, the US Ambassador to Chile, Alejandro Wolff, announced the inauguration of a U.S. funded training center at Ft. Aguayo in Concón, Valparaíso. The facility that includes a mock city with 8 buildings, was billed as a center for “Peace Operations”. Noting the role of brutal repression of Chile’s armed forces against student demonstrations, Chilean organizations have raised their voices in opposition.
Alicia Lira, President of the Group of Family Members of the Politically Executed
“We reject the installation of this military base financed by the United States. Here in Chile, there is no urban warfare, no terrorist violence. This training center, for supposed peace operations, continues with the logic of the internal enemy, which comes from the time of the dictatorship and that is taught in the School of the Americas. We demand our authorities put an immediate end to this military base in our territory”.
Amanda Jordan, SOA Watch Activante in Santiago
“The Chileans have a right to know why Chile was chosen as the site for the Southern Command to put in a military base. These decisions should not be made secretly, between the armies of each country, because it is the people who pay the soldiers’ salaries.”
North American Military Strategies (Español abajo)
United States planted dozens of military bases in Latin America by EMILIO MARIN
According to some studies there are 22 North American bases in Latin America. More recent studies speak of more than 40. Whichever, there are many and express a plan of domination including force.
As you know, the most recent North American military base is the one inaugurated this past April in Chile. This is Fort Aguayo, in Concon, in the Valparaiso region, 180 kilometers west of Santiago de Chile and the US Southern Command spent half a million dollars for its construction.
It was already in operation and criticized by many social organizations when US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta visited the country this month. Questioned about the significance of the base, he only said that it will serve for training of staff from 12 Latin American countries (including Argentina) who are embarking on international peacekeeping missions.
Panetta shrugged off the role the US plays in this base, saying that the true owner is Chile. That didn’t convince hardly anyone. Human rights organizations signed an eight point statement repudiating the military installation. They remembered that the last coup in the hemisphere, perpetrated in June 2009 in Honduras, featured the US in that country. [Translators Note: During a delegation in June 2011, Honduran officials told our delegation it is a Honduran air base and the Americans are “invited guests.”] Manuel Zelaya, the constitutional president, was apprehended in his house, kidnapped by the coup forces and conducted first to the Soto Cano (Palmerola) air base before his forced deportation to Costa Rica.
Chilean human rights organizations, as did the population, suffered the turmoil of American interference in the 1970s with the coup of Augusto Pinochet, preceded by Operation United at Chile’s door in September 1973.
An interesting question is which is the oldest Yankee military base? Some will say that it is the usurpation of Guantanamo, Cuba, where they imposed on the young and failing republic a perpetual lease, guaranteed “legally” with the 1902 Platt Amendment.
Others believe that the oldest is the School of the Americas that operated in the Panama Canal Zone until relocated by the Carter-Torrijos accords to Ft. Benning, GA. The other oldest, which does not pertain directly, is the British base of Mount Pleasant, on Malvinas Soledad Island, where long since have the British usurpers emplanted themselves. Collaboration agreements between the two NATO allies, US and UK, there is no doubt that what the Americans demand of their collaborative partner, it will be done instantly. Such cooperation between empires is verified with another base that depends on Mount Pleasant, Ascension Island, which is British, but whose airport was leased to US in 1956. The Yankee air force has operated it since then.
In some cases a base is opened and then, due to negative political reasons, must be closed. This is what happened with Manta, in Ecuador, created by the US collaborationist Colonel Lucio Gutierrez and closed in 2009 by the Patriot Rafael Correa. Unfortunately there are more bases opened than are closed by anti-imperialist Presidents.
Intents in Argentina
The US Southern Command, has been led since June 2009 by Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser, from its base in Southern Florida. Fraser, as have his predecessors Generals Charles Wilhem in 1999, Peter Pace in 2001, James Hill in 2004, Bantz Craddok in 2005, and Adm. James Stavridis in 2007, have had one policy concern and a military disposition.
The worry, nearly an obsession, is the increase in governments in disagreement with Washington; the eternal Cuba, never digested, added to in their own times and accensts, Correa, Evo Morales, and most of all, Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.
Secondarily, the Command in Florida, has also been disturbed by rebellious gestures by Brazil and Argentina, with which there are relatively friendly relations, on the policies of the blockade of Cuba and isolation of Venezuela.
General Fraser still bitterly remembers the incident of February 2011 when the Argentine government did not allow his airplane carrying weapons, equipment and drugs, from leaving after landing at Ezeiza. The military must think that Argentine rulers are ungrateful because the shipment was for American officers who were to do a course with Federal “Argentina” police officers.
As Argentina is an important piece on the political chess board of Latin America, the Pentagon always insists on having a boot in the place. At the end of 2011, the consular minister of the US embassy in Buenos Aires and the military attaché, Commander Edwin Passmore, were received by the Governor of Chaco, Jorge Capitanich.
The reason for the meeting was to continue conversations sustained since 2007 with Capitanich with then US ambassador Earl Wayne, aimed to create a base of operations allegedly humanitarian in that Northeast province .
The year before, US Ambassador Vilma S. Martinez, had accompanied Gen. Fraser for a visit in Buenos Aires with Minister Nilda Garre. The three smiled for a photo that is hung in the embassy.
This year time speeded up. Since March 18, Capitanich received in his office the delegation of the Southern Command, including Commander Passmore and other Embassy officials. After the meeting Passmore spoke officially for the Chaco Administration to report on the agreement. He said the treaty was in its final stages to build a “Center for Emergencies”, constructed with Southern Command funds at the Resistencia airport.
Stumble but not fall
This information detonated a political scandal. The governor had many antecedents of pro-Americanism as shown to Wayne in 2008. Wikileak cables revealed Capitanich statements contrary to the anti-American sentiments that prevailed in broad swaths of Argentine society. But this did not affect who entered politics at the hands of Domingo F. Cavallo, and in 2020 he was Chief of Cabinet of Eduardo Duhadle, as were Daniel Alberto Fernendez, Amado Boudou, Capitanich, Scioli and Sergio Massa, all well tuned to the wavelength of the USA.
The project of the Southern Command in Chaco raised much controversy in the province and in the country. There were two popular marches in April and May in which thousands of people marched to the Resistencia airport to denounce the Yankee plan which in principle looks like it is humanitarian, but coming from where it comes, has clear and dangerous political and military connotations.
As was reported, what a coincidence it is that the “Emergency Center” is located on the Guarani aquifer, the fourth largest reserve of sweet water in the world. On the Paraguayan side there already exists since 2006 the Mariscal Estigarribia, with 600 US marines who arrived with humanitarian claims and are still there.
The government of Cristina Fernandez was in a difficult position to endorse Capitanich’s draft project. Argentina had voted against a US-inspired resolution at a recent meeting of the OAS and the Inter-American Defense Board. It was intended that the military in each country, in the event of a natural disaster, earthquake, flood, etc., could make decisions without the authorization of civilian authorities.
Among other negative history of intervention “per se”, is cited the case of Chile, when during the earthquake of 2010, the police killed a person considered in violation of the emergency laws.
In the end, Capitanich was to do an about face and change his initiative. On May 22, the project passed the Legislature where the infamous Emergency Center is to be part of Civil Defense with no participation of foreign militaries. That was a serious failure for the Southern Command, their like-minded politicians, and the gringo embassy.
Anyway, the American military did not give up. When they stumble and fall, they have other plans, previous or substitutes, to go forward with their militaristic plan. A clear example is seen in Manta. When President Correa closed the installation, key to the Pacific, they left rapidly to claim from Colombian Alvaro Uribe, access to seven bases in Colombia. They also opened another three in Peru. It would not be surprising if, because of the failure in Chaco, Argentina, that the Southern Command will strengthen the bases of Concon in Chile and Mariscal Estigarribia in Paraguay.
For Fraser, but moreover for his bosses Panetta and Barack Obama, in this time of economic crisis, they must have ready the marines, the planes, the missiles, the Fourth Fleet and the multi-billion dollar Pentagon budget ($664 billion).
ESTRATEGIAS MILITARISTAS DEL IMPERIO NORTEAMERICANO
EE UU sembró decenas de bases militares en América Latina
Según algunos estudios son 22 las bases norteamericanas en América Latina. Estudios más recientes hablan de más de 40. Como sea, son muchas y expresan un plan de dominación, incluso por la fuerza.
Que se sepa, la más reciente base militar norteamericana es la inaugurada en abril pasado en Chile. Está en el fuerte Aguayo, en Concón, región de Valparaíso, a 180 kilómetros al oeste de Santiago de Chile y el Comando Sur norteamericano destinó medio millón de dólares para su construcción.
Ya estaba en operaciones y criticada por numerosas organizaciones sociales, cuando ese mes visitó el país el secretario de Defensa, Leon Panetta. Preguntado sobre el significado de la base, se limitó a decir que servirá para adiestramiento de personal interviniente en misiones internacionales de paz, de las que forman parte doce países
latinoamericanos (entre ellos Argentina). Panetta restó importancia al rol que juega EE UU en esta base, afirmando que es Chile el verdadero dueño. No convenció a casi nadie.
Entidades de derechos humanos firmaron una declaración de ocho puntos repudiando la instalación militar. Y recordaron que el último golpe de Estado en el subcontinente, perpetrado en junio de 2009 en Honduras, contó con el empleo de la base estadounidense asentada en ese país.
Manuel Zelaya, el presidente constitucional, fue apresado en su domicilio, secuestrado por los golpistas y conducido a la base de Soto Cano, Palmerola, como primer paso antes de su deportación forzosa a Costa Rica.
Esos organismos humanitarios de Chile sufrieron, como su población, en carne propia, los avatares de la injerencia norteamericana de los ´70, con el golpe de Estado de Augusto Pinochet, precedido por el Operativo Unitas a las puertas de Chile en setiembre de 1973.
En cambio es más discutible discernir cuál es la base militar más antigua de los yanquis. Algunos dirán que es la que usurpan en Guantánamo, Cuba, donde impusieron a la naciente y fallida república la concesión a perpetuidad de la zona, garantizada “legalmente” con la Enmienda Platt de 1902.
Otros creerán que la de mayor antigüedad es la Escuela de las Américas que funcionaba en la zona del canal de Panamá y que luego de los acuerdos Carter-Torrijos fue desplazada a Fort Benning, en Georgia. Entre las más viejas que no le pertenecen directamente hay que mencionar a la base británica de Mount Pleasant, en Malvinas, isla
Soledad, donde desde hace mucho tiempo están plantados los ingleses usurpadores. Por los convenios de colaboración entre miembros de la OTAN, como son EE UU y el Reino Unido, no cabe duda que lo que los norteamericanos demanden de colaboración del socio, lo tendrán al instante. Esa cooperación entre imperios se verifica con otra base que
depende de Mount Pleasant, la isla de Ascensión, británica, pero cuyo aeropuerto fue arrendado a EE UU en 1956. La fuerza aérea yanqui lo opera desde entonces.
En algunos casos una base es abierta y luego, por motivos políticos adversos, debe ser cerrada. Es lo que sucedió con la de Manta, en Ecuador, creada por el colaboracionista coronel Lucio Gutiérrez y cerrada en 2009 por el patriota Rafael Correa. Lamentablemente son más las que se abren que las que se cierran por esos motivos de presidentes antiimperialistas.
Intentos en Argentina
El Comando Sur norteamericano, dirigido desde junio de 2009 por el general de la Fuerza Aérea, Douglas Fraser, manda desde su base central de La Florida. Tanto Fraser como sus antecesores en el comando, los generales Charles Wilhem en 1999, Peter Pace en 2001, James Hill en 2004 y Bantz Craddok en 2005, y por el almirante James Stavridis en 2007, han tenido una preocupación política y un dispositivo militar correspondiente.
La preocupación, casi se diría obsesión, es el aumento de gobiernos díscolos con Washington; a la eterna Cuba, nunca digerida, se fueron sumando con sus propios tiempos y acentos, gobiernos como el de Correa, Evo Morales y sobre todo, el de Hugo Chávez en Venezuela. Secundariamente también han molestado al Comando de La Florida gestos insumisos de Brasil y Argentina, que aún en medio de relaciones
relativamente amistosas desafiaron las políticas de bloqueo a Cuba y aislamiento a Venezuela.
Todavía debe recordar con amargura el general Fraser el incidente con el avión suyo con armas, equipos y drogas que el gobierno argentino no permitió desembarcar luego de aterrizar en Ezeiza, en febrero de 2011. El militar debe pensar que los gobernantes argentinos son desagradecidos porque todo ese cargamento iba para oficiales
norteamericanos que harían un curso con oficiales de la Policía Federal “Argentina”.
Como Argentina es una pieza importante en el tablero político latinoamericano, el Pentágono siempre insiste en poner la bota en el lugar. A fines de 2011 el ministro consejero de la embajada norteamericana en Buenos Aires y el agregado militar, comandante Edwin Passmore, fueron recibidos por el gobernador de Chaco, Jorge
El motivo de la reunión era continuar las conversaciones sostenidas ya en 2007 por Capitanich con el entonces embajador norteamericano, Earl Wayne, que apuntaban a crear una base de operaciones supuestamente humanitarias en esa provincia del noreste. El año anterior la embajadora norteamericana, Vilma S. Martínez, había
acompañado al general Fraser, de visita en Buenos Aires, hasta el despacho de la ministra Nilda Garre. Los tres sonrieron para la foto, que está colgada en el álbum de la embajada.
Este año se aceleraron los tiempos, pues el 18 de marzo Capitanich recibió en su despacho a la comitiva del Comando Sur, integrada por el comandante Passmore y otros funcionarios de la embajada. Luego del encuentro Passmore fue el vocero oficial de la administración chaqueña, pues informó de lo tratado. Dijo que estaba en su etapa
final la “Central de Emergencias” construida con fondos del Comando Sur en el aeropuerto de Resistencia.
Tropezón que no es caída
Esta información detonó un escándalo político. El gobernador tenía muchos antecedentes de pronorteamericano, como le había manifestado a Wayne en 2008. Cables de WikiLeaks revelaban que Capitanich se había manifestado contrario al sentimiento antinorteamericano que imperaba en amplias franjas de la sociedad argentina. Esto no podía llamar la atención de quien ingresó a la política de la mano de Domingo F. Cavallo y en 2002 fue jefe de Gabinete de Eduardo Duhalde. Como Daniel Scioli, Sergio Massa, Alberto Fernández y Amado Boudou, Capitanich sintoniza bien la onda de EE UU.
El proyecto del Comando Sur albergado por Chaco levantó mucha polémica en la provincia y el país. Hubo dos marchas populares, en abril y mayo, de miles de personas hacia el aeropuerto de Resistencia, para denunciar el plan yanqui, que en principio luce como humanitario pero que, viniendo de quien viene, tiene claras y peligrosas connotaciones políticas y militares.
Como se denunció, qué casualidad que la “Central de Emergencias” esté ubicada sobre el Acuífero Guaraní, la cuarta reserva mundial de agua dulce del planeta. Del lado paraguayo ya existe desde 2006 la base Mariscal Estigarribia, con 600 marines que vinieron con argumentos humanitarios y aún están allí.
El propio gobierno de Cristina Fernández estaba en difíciles condiciones para avalar el proyecto de Capitanich. Es que Argentina había votado en contra de un proyecto de inspiración estadounidense presentado en una reunión reciente de la OEA y la Junta Interamericana de Defensa. Se pretendía que los militares de cada país, ante una
catástrofe natural, terremoto o inundaciones, etc, pudieran decidir aún sin autorización de las autoridades civiles.
Entre otros antecedentes negativos de esa intervención “per se”, se citó el caso de Chile, cuando -tras el terremoto de 2010- los Carabineros asesinaron a una persona considerándose por encima de las leyes en esa emergencia.
Al final Capitanich tuvo que cambiar de medio a medio su iniciativa. El 22 de mayo último envió un proyecto de ley a la Legislatura para que la tristemente célebre “Central de Emergencias” pase a depender de la Defensa Civil, propia, que no podrá dar participación a ninguna fuerza militar foránea.
Esto fue un fracaso grave del imperio y sus políticos afines, de la embajada gringa y su Comando Sur. De todas maneras, los militares norteamericanos no se darán por vencidos. Cuando tropiezan y caen en un lado, tienen otros planes previos o sucedáneos para seguir con su plan militarista. Un ejemplo claro lo dieron en Manta. Cuando el presidente Correa les cerró esa instalación clave sobre el Pacífico, salieron rápidamente a reclamar que el entonces mandatario colombiano Alvaro Uribe les cediera siete nuevas bases en Colombia. Y también abrieron otras tres en Perú. No sería extraño que ante la negativa final de Argentina en Chaco, el Comando Sur fortalezca la base de Concon en Chile y la de Mariscal Estigarribia en Paraguay.
Para Fraser, pero sobre todo para sus jefes Panetta y Barack Obama, en estos tiempos de crisis económica hay que tener listos los marines, los aviones, los misiles, la IV Flota y el multimillonario presupuesto del Pentágono (664.000 millones de dólares).
|What’s behind Obama’s new military base in Chile?|
|The construction of a new US military base in Chile has some locals worrying – and wondering what it’s for.|
|New York, NY – Even as the Obama campaign ramps up its operations for the 2012 presidential race and seeks to gin up its liberal base, the White House has become increasingly more assertive in pushing for a global network of US military bases. Indeed, if the progressive community was paying attention, it might be somewhat surprised to find that Obama has been even more militaristic in some ways than predecessor George Bush, the long-time bane of the US left. In particular, Obama has been quietly constructing American bases in the remote Southern Cone. It’s an intriguing news story which has received scant attention in the US media, much less the so-called progressive media.
In a recent column, I discussed the novel story of Obama’s new military base located in the Chaco region of northern Argentina. Officially, the Resistencia base forms part of a joint US-Argentine initiative which will provide joint emergency services and eventually deploy troops for “humaninatarian relief”. Local authorities have emphatically stressed that the installation is a civil base only, and will be subject to the oversight of provincial authorities. Nevertheless, the Argentine left claims that Resistencia amounts to a covert US intelligence operation, thinly disguised as humanitarian relief. One Argentine legislator has even called for an investigation into the “Yankee base in Chaco” and recently political and environmental activists held a demonstration against the installation.
If the Resistencia story was not outlandish enough, now comes word that the Obama administration has pushed for yet another base, this one located just across the border in Chile. The installation, which has cost the US taxpayer nearly a half million dollars to construct, is situated in the port city of Concón in the central Chilean province of Valparaíso. In Chile, the political debate surrounding the Concón base mirrors the previous fight over the Resistencia installation: while local authorities and the US military claim that Concón will be used for training armed forces deployed for peacekeeping operations, the Chilean left believes the base is aimed at controlling and repressing the local civilian population.
The social impact of US bases
For Chilean civil society, which has longtime experience with US interventionism going way back to the dark days of the Augusto Pinochet military dictatorship, the Concón base raises eyebrows. Human rights groups charge that the actual design of the base – which simulates an urban zone with eight buildings as well as sidewalks and roads – suggests that the Chilean military is interested in repressing protest. According to United Press International, Concón “is growing into a major destination for regional military trainers and defence industry contractors”.
The facility is run by the US Southern Command, headquartered in Miami, Florida. The US, which has in recent years been losing some of its political and economic hegemony in the region, is interested in getting another foothold for its military operations. Indeed, ever since the nationalist/populist regime of Rafael Correa booted Washington out of its base in Manta, Ecuador, the US has been on a quest to find alternative sites in South America.
Hopefully, the new US bases in the Southern Cone will not recreate the Manta experience which in many ways was socially undesirable for local residents. While researching my second book in Quito a couple of years ago, I asked Gualdemar Jiménez, a political activist organising against the Manta base, to fill me in on the particulars. He explained that the installation, which was located on the Pacific coast and used for drug overflights of Colombian airspace, had created a lot of friction. “Manta used to be a purely fishing town,” he explained. “Now the fishermen don’t have access to certain parts of the ocean, which are closed off for security reasons.”
On the sea, US marines had intercepted Ecuadoran boats, even sinking some vessels. “The marines are not the Ecuadoran coast guard,” Jiménez declared indignantly. What is more, the base had gradually expanded over time and this trend had displaced campesino farmers from their traditional lands. In addition, there had been environmental damage: within the local area, hillsides had been destroyed in an effort to acquire the necessary raw materials to mix asphalt and repave the runway.
The Manta air base contributed some $7 million to the local economy annually, but activists were critical of the lack of real economic development in the area. The marines didn’t do any shopping in Ecuadoran markets, nor did they utilise local transportation. “The only thing they contribute to is local discos and prostitution,” Jiménez explained bitterly. “What you’re describing is hardly unique,” I remarked, “it reminds me of the history of other US military bases.” “It’s a trend that is repeated around the world,” Jiménez said, “in Vietnam, you had houses of prostitution springing up as well.”
Panetta dispatched to Santiago
Fast forward a couple of years and Washington is now desperate to secure additional bases after losing its foothold at Manta. In a sign of the importance which Washington now assigns to Concón, the Obama administration recently dispatched Defence Secretary Leon Panetta to Santiago for talks with the conservative Sebastián Piñera government. Seeking to allay the concerns of those who still remember the horrific repression and rampant human rights abuses of the US-backed Pinochet government, Panetta claimed that Concón was not a true military base but merely a “training camp operated entirely by Chile” designed to prepare armed forces for future peacekeeping operations.
Though surely high profile, the Panetta visit simply reinforces growing defence ties between the US and Chile. According to classified US State Department cables recently released by whistle-blowing outfit WikiLeaks, Chilean Minister of Defence José Goñi has been one of the most important figures spearheading this effort. As early as 2007, Goñi was working behind the scenes with the Americans to improve bilateral military ties.
Hoping to reassure the Hugo Chávez bashing Bush administration, Goñi said that Chile was closely monitoring Venezuela’s support for the Bolivian military. There was a clear effort by Chávez and his “cronies”, Goñi continued, to influence other countries and so Santiago had been keeping close tabs on Venezuela’s military relations with Brazil.
Minister Goñi and the School of the Americas
A year later, Goñi travelled to Washington and remarked that the US “was Chile’s most important defence and security partner”, adding that he was even interested in furthering joint ties with US Special Forces. During his trip, the Minister also visited the notorious Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, or WHINSEC, formerly known as the School of the Americas. Originally established in the Panama Canal Zone in 1946, the school later moved to Fort Benning, Georgia.
Since its inception, the institution has instructed tens of thousands of Latin American soldiers in military and law-enforcement tactics. The Pentagon itself has acknowledged that in the past the School of the Americas utilised training manuals advocating coercive interrogation techniques and extrajudicial executions. After receiving their training at the institution, officers went on to commit countless human rights atrocities in countries throughout the wider region.
For years, human rights campaigners in both Latin America and the US have been pushing to close WHINSEC. To Goñi, however, such activists were apparently a nuisance as they stood to derail important military ties with Washington. Furthermore, the campaigners could embarrass Chilean military personnel who had taken classes at WHINSEC itself. Speaking to the Americans, Goñi lamented that there still remained “a small minority of opponents to WHINSEC in Chile (including some members of Congress)”.
Therefore, Goñi concluded, it would be necessary “to help educate this minority” in an effort to sell further WHINSEC ties. “To this end,” the US Embassy in Santiago wrote, “the Minister, at the recommendation of the [US] Secretary of Defence, has invited several Chilean Congress members and NGOs [non-government organisations] to visit WHINSEC in March 2009 in an effort to help opponents better understand exactly what WHINSEC is all about.”
WikiLeaks and the Mapuche Indians
There’s no love lost between WHINSEC boosters and Chilean civil society, including restive students and the Mapuche Indians, Chile’s largest indigenous group. For years, the Mapuche have been persecuted by the Chilean state under draconian anti-terrorism laws dating from the Pinochet military era. The Indians claim that the security forces storm into indigenous homes, sometimes without a warrant. The authorities then destroy household items or objects of cultural value while simultaneously hurling racial epithets and mistreating children and the elderly. When it comes to using lethal weapons, the police reportedly do not hesitate.
At its root, the Mapuche conflict centres around corporate greed and connivance of the Chilean state which is bent on exploiting the country’s resources. Unfortunately for the Indians, such natural resources including mining, forests and salmon farming are to be found on Mapuche land. In line with its pro-corporate orientation, the Chilean government has provided incentives to logging companies seeking to operate on ancestral Mapuche lands. While it’s possible that the Concón “installation” – or military base as the case may be – will be merely used to train peacekeepers, Chilean civil society and the Indians have plenty of reason to be suspicious of US intentions.
Recently, I wrote an eye opening piece about how the US Federal Bureau of Investigation collaborated with the Chilean Ministry of Interior to keep tabs on the Mapuche. The revelations are contained in a US cable dating from early 2008 and relate to a meeting between Bush-appointed US ambassador in Santiago Paul Simons and Chilean Interior Minister Edmundo Pérez Yoma. According to the document, the Interior Minister was concerned about “the potential radicalisation of Chile’s indigenous population”.
Speaking with US officials, Pérez said that Mapuche could be receiving financial support from the likes of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, Colombian FARC rebels or even ETA Basque separatists. The Americans were happy to offer expertise, noting that “the FBI is coordinating with the Carabineros [Chile's military police] to assist in identification and potential prosecution of actors within Chile.” In another part of the cable, reference is made to US officials collecting intelligence not only on FARC and ETA but also Mapuche radicals “who might have potential links” to foreign groups.
What’s behind the Chilean base?
In the upcoming presidential campaign, Obama will no doubt seek to appeal to his liberal base by pointing out how he extricated the US from an unpopular war in the Middle East. Yet, peer beneath the surface and the current Washington administration has been expanding its base of operations in other remote corners of the globe.
Moreover, WikiLeaks documents reveal a disturbing pattern of collaboration between US and Santiago security forces at a time of acute social and political tensions in Chile. Local civil society, which has uncomfortable memories of US-backed military dictatorship, is understandably quite perplexed about recent developments and wants to know what, precisely, Washington is up to in the Southern Cone.
Nikolas Kozloff is the author of Revolution! South America and the Rise of the New Left.